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Q&A: Joaquim Rodriguez

Laura Meseguer
14 Nov 2018

The Spanish ex-pro talks to Cyclist about retirement, trading race secrets and Team Sky’s dominance

Cyclist: You were a pro for 16 years. How are you enjoying retirement?

Joaquim Rodriguez: Life totally changes after you retire. I’m lucky that I can keep in contact with the sport, working as an ambassador for Bahrain Merida, advising the riders on racing.

I still have an appetite for competition, and if Sonny Colbrelli narrowly comes second, it feels the same as if I’d just lost myself.

Now, cycling is more about adventure than competition for me.

Tomorrow I’m riding 312km around Mallorca with 8,000 people; last month I competed in the Cape Epic mountain bike race in South Africa in the middle of the desert.

I’ve always wanted to do this stuff. When you’re a pro, you raise your hand and someone changes your wheel.

After 16 years of that I needed a change of scenery.

Cyc: You and Bahrain Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali were fierce rivals for years. Is it strange to now be on the same side?

JR: Vincenzo has been both my rival and my opposite. Alejandro Valverde and I were very similar riders – both puncheurs – but for Nibali the perfect race situation is one where he can break down the competition altogether.

Because we were so very different as riders, I can’t give him advice on what he should do in a race. But I can tell him things that he doesn’t see about other riders.

I can tell him about Valverde’s moves in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, or when Philippe Gilbert or Nairo Quintana are preparing for an attack or hiding fatigue.

For example, the stage that Vincenzo won at last year’s Giro in Bormio, I saw immediately that Quintana wasn’t feeling good.

Nairo doesn’t like company – he prefers to ride on his own. So when I saw him asking for food on the Umbrail Pass I told Nibali to attack because I knew Quintana was empty.

Cyc: Which riders are going to be the big players in the coming Grand Tours?

JR: One rider that I like a lot is Primoz Roglic. He’s showing an amazing smoothness in the time-trials and in the mountains.

I think Froome will be at the same level he always is. The same goes for Valverde, Quintana and Nibali – they never disappoint.

I think Dumoulin is going to take a step forward riding the Giro and the Tour, and I’m very curious to see him battling Froome at the Tour.

The combination of Quintana, Valverde and Landa at Movistar is very interesting too. In the end, the race puts everyone in their place.

They’re not going to finish first, second and third in Paris, so they will need to establish their order early in the race, and make clear to the sport directors who should be working for whom throughout the race.

Cyc: Would you like to see Team Sky dominate less this season?

JR: Of course. I was the complete opposite to them in the way I raced, and I suffered a lot when Sky imposed their constant rhythm.

I think they make the races a bit dull, so I hope there’s a team that can break the race, as happened with Movistar in 2014, or in 2013 where we saw Froome riding solo a few times.

But there are not many riders who can beat Froome head to head.

Cyc: What do you think about Froome riding with a hanging suspension?

JR: It’s a real problem for the UCI. It’s sad that a rider is allowed to compete before his situation has been clarified.

When this sort of thing happens, it’s always seen the same way – for the public opinion the rider is already guilty no matter what. And that’s very sad.

Cyc: Which Grand Tour do you really wish you had won?

JR: The 2012 Giro d’Italia, without any doubt. It was the first time I was in contention for the leader’s jersey.

To lose the race on the last day by just 16 seconds to a rider who, with all respect to Ryder Hesjedal, was never a favourite for the Giro… it was tough.

He was in the shape of his life. For us it was frustrating.

Cyc: Did you prefer to race for the GC or hunt for stage victories?

JR: I was very ambitious, so I enjoyed fighting for both. If I had a bad day, the next day I would already be looking for new goals.

At the Tour de France in 2015, I had a really bad time in La Pierre Saint-Martin, losing six minutes, but two days later I won a stage from the breakaway.

Not many leaders are able to do anything interesting in a race after they see their chances in the GC gone.

Cyc: Rui Costa pipped you at the 2013 World Championships. Would you do anything different if you could go back?

JR: I wouldn’t change a thing about my own performance, but I would change what happened behind me, so Valverde could control Rui Costa a bit better.

Every rider would want to change that. If Valverde had caught Costa, he would have won the race or maybe he would have stopped Rui and I would have won.

But a lot of people, especially the foreign media, don’t know that with 3km to go, Alejandro told me to attack because he was empty.

My attack was read as a battle between the two of us, or because he didn’t want to work for me. But no, Spain did a great job.

Cyc: Do you have any thoughts on what can be done to make cycling a better sport for the riders, and reduce the dominance of the bigger teams?

JR: I don’t see a problem if a team has a big budget or riders have high salaries. Real Madrid have won the Champions League 13 times and no one complains about it.

If a sponsor wants to get into cycling with a €40 million budget and starts winning every race, other sponsors can do likewise to increase the competition.

To me it’s absurd to speak about changing that. Other sports are paying €200 million just to terminate a contract.

In our sport, where luckily more and more big sponsors are coming, there’s a grand stage for competitors and a lot of spectacle.

Yet we go and change that, and send 100 riders home because of the new idea of reducing teams for the races.

I would do completely the opposite of what’s being done now.

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